Wanny Hersey Builds Empathy in the Classroom Through Design Thinking

Wanny Hersey is an English educator at Bullis Charter School who believes strongly that design thinking and making builds empathy and deeper learning in her classroom. Read through her excerpted interview with EdSurge below, and read the full article here.



Twitter: @wahersey

EdSurge: How do you define design thinking and making?

Wanny Hersey: For me, making is creating something. Whether you’re cooking or putting on a show or sewing—or creating some new technology to solve a problem—that’s all making. Design thinking gives purpose to making. It’s a problem-solving, action-oriented, human-centered process that we engage in to assist our students in their journeys as makers.

You have to engage students in making in meaningful ways, and not just making for the sake of making; there must be intentionality. For example, I would never want students just coding so they can learn a coding app. If you only do it in isolation—and have no contextual value or it doesn’t apply to anything—it’s meaningless. Instead, we have second graders who are coding because they’re creating a game to teach others about nutrition and healthy foods.

Design thinking and making and project-based learning—these are processes. They’re tools educators can use to understand students’ needs and provide them a structure where they can build on their abilities—no matter what their level—and integrate their passions in learning.

EdSurge: Do you have any favorite stories about how making can impact students?

Yes! One that comes to mind is a former Bullis student who designed and developed wireless temperature sensors to help biologists study leatherback turtle nests more easily.

Costa Rica and leatherback turtle conservation are themes we cover in K-6, integrated within the state standards we teach. One of the units is understanding the life cycle of the leatherbacks and the threats they encounter at each stage. Students are challenged to design and create prototypes to help save them or protect their eggs. Then, in sixth grade, they actually go to Costa Rica to work along scientists who are studying the leatherbacks to see if their prototypes may be feasible.

One student saw that scientists patrol the beaches and put devices in the [turtle] nests to measure the temperature of the eggs. He realized it was very labor intensive, because they had to regularly check the device in the nest to record the data. What he learned there stuck with him. In high school, he designed sensors that—once added to the nest—continuously gather temperature readings, saving the biologists a lot of time. That was inspired by his trip and all the making that he’s done at Bullis.

Read the full EdSurge interview with Wanny Hersey here.